Chapter 7

Jayne never hesitated. The shot yanked Mal out of his confusion. Raymond was down, but Mal fired once more just to be sure, he didn't want another Dobson situation. Inara was staring at Raymond, her face as frozen as Zoe's, Mal grabbed her arm, rather rougher than she would generally allow, but she didn't resist as he pulled her behind him. They had to get out, and quickly. He hadn't ever ridden a ship down before, but the way the deck plating was movin' he knew the ship was in trouble.

Inara stood behind him still staring as the blood pooled around the vacant eyed Raymond; Jayne pulling his wallet out and eyeing the rest of the room for objects to pilfer. Mal wracked his memories of the plans Kaylee had sprinted him through. What he remembered wasn't good. They were separated from the escape pods by the hull breach. Well, a fine yacht like this one had to have a private shuttle, they just had to find it and hope it was still space worthy. Decision made, time to move out.

Grabbing Inara's arm again he marched out into the hallway, she resisted now, muttering under her breath and shaking slightly. Jayne glared at them as he looked down the hallway, knowing any delay could be fatal at this point.

"Inara." Mal said calmly, but if she heard there was no indication; she was craning her neck back to see the dead body muttering something about eels. He repeated himself at higher volume and she turned her glass-eyed stare to him. Now that he had her eyes he spoke firmly, and gave her orders. "You are to stay between me and Jayne. If there's gunplay drop to the ground and follow my orders exactly." At the shift in his tone her eyes focused in surprise, and she nodded.He motioned Jayne to take point, Inara would need to be chivied along.

"We're going to head toward the bridge." Jayne looked incredulous but kept his opinion to himself for once.

The ship was now bucking and banking around them and twice he had to catch Inara before she fell to the floor or was bashed into a wall. Nearing the bridge the ship began to shudder and rock violently, when, finally, Mal saw their first piece of good luck, a gangway leading to shuttles, one of which was still attached.

Mal whistled to catch Jayne's attention, using hand signals to direct him. Jayne followed and heading inside and strapping in, but Inara balked. Mal nearly knocked her, not expecting her strong footing. She didn't say anything but she wouldn't move into the shuttle, instead whirling away to face him. Jayne looked shocked and moved to come back to help but Mal motioned for him to stay back. He looked down at her, and issued more orders.

"You are goin' on that shuttle."

"No, Mal, I, I can't." She half screamed half stammered to him, her eyes panicky and wide.

"You are." He pushed her, none to gently, but she resisted, hitting and screaming and even clawing wildly at him. "No. No. No!"

He pinned her arms to her sides and moved closer to her. Her eyes ranged about the scene, looking everywhere but at him. He'd seen many a soldier scream and wail, or just sit down and stare blankly. She wasn't here. She wasn't her. Shellshock. Hold still long enough and it would kill, and he'd be damned if she'd die on him now.

"You are. You are going to strap in." At his words her body shuddered, and tears began to fall. That was good. Meant she was back in the present and not wildly flailing against the past. He felt her relax marginally and he took his hands off her arms.

"You are going to go and sit next to Jayne and you are going to strap in."

Still crying she turned and moved inside the shuttle, not noticing the panicked men now running toward them. Mal darted inside the shuttle and turned to face the on-comers. The gangway was short, but long enough for what had to be done. The men were rushing toward him, looking expectant, hoping for a ride to safety.

As he sealed the door he heard two clunks. Rushing to the cockpit he strapped in and began to disengage, the sound of the shuttle releasing followed by two large explosions. He swallowed hard. Hadn't meant for it to go this way. Jayne looked at him, unsettled, it was one thing to shoot armed men chompin' for a fight, but unarmed pilots jus' lookin' for work, that was a whole 'nother business. He snorted, he'd feel guilty about it later, and turned all his attention to flying the damn thing.

Mal wasn't a pilot, he could fly Serenity and her shuttles if the need arose, but he usually had Zoe or River to help him. This was different. Large chunks of debris missed them narrowly as he attempted to 'thread the needle' as Wash would say.

He felt several impacts on one side and twisted the little shuttle around to avoid more, all while flying down toward the planet. Several escape pods streaked past them and Mal pushed the shuttle for more speed, hoping that if it appeared on radar it would look like just another pod.

He heard Inara scream and Jayne gasp as he pulled a heavy g maneuver to avoid smashing into an immense piece of falling debris. The ship was breaking apart spectacularly, secondary explosions along the fuel lines leading to the engine had ripped it to pieces. The shuttle rocked and spun and he fought to keep control as they went careening back toward the planet.

He couldn't black out. If he blacked out they'd either hit the planet too fast and end up a smear along the landscape or awaken to Alliance rescue personnel carting him off to jail. He had to stay conscious, had to fly as if he were an out of control escape pod, then once below radar fly in a holding pattern until they could enter the traffic leaving the planet and rendezvous with Serenity. Stay conscious. Fly like a leaf on the wind. Don't crash. Stay conscious. Stay. Conscious.

Dull heavy clunks told him more debris from the ship was crashing into them, and he tried to adjust course to avoid the worst of it, he could feel the blackness creeping in along the sides of his vision. The yoke shuddered and warning lights and klaxons blared. He clung to the yoke, forcing himself to fly even as it became heavier and heavier and his mind became fuzzier and fuzzier.

Fighting to remain conscious he didn't respond to the frantic voices buzzing through the radio.

They'd be finding watches for days. The debris scattered over a few miles, escape pods, twisted bits of metal, a long impact crater from a crashed shuttle, and one shuttle that looked nearly intact. From the hurried conversations back at the station house it appeared a luxury yacht had crashed into the planet after frenzied calls to the radio tower reporting gunshots. No one knew what had happened up there, and it was likely they never would. The hospital had sent over their new interns to help with the recovery, their faces were white with shock at what was mixed with the twisted metal.

Jonah had been called to several recoveries, in his career as an EMS, and generally what they found were bodies, often in pieces, sometimes burned, and sometimes alive. The new interns, however much they were used to cadavers, weren't used to what lay before them. They had to open each pod to check for a potential survivor, but rarely did they find someone in any sort of condition to save, if you could call what that entailed as saving.

"Looks like a bag and tag." He said over the shoulder of a young intern, she looked at him in shock, upset by his attitude. But he'd seen too many of these crashes to not recognize what he'd seen over her shoulder. At least there was something to bag, a body for their family to claim.

The intern looked to be on the verge of tears, so he moved to another pod, breathing through his mouth, and tried not to notice the scavengers combing through the debris. Spaceships were made of rare and valuable parts, so it wasn't unusual for them to be picked over by vultures, but he usually met them as he left the scene, not upon arrival. He spat in disgust.

Jonah gritted his teeth, cursing under his breath at those dredges of humanity profiting from disaster. One of them, a large man, had even grabbed a watch right off a corpse. He had a good mind to call security over, but when he looked up again they were gone.

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